How Creative Conservation During the Pandemic is Supporting Aquaculture

Aquaculture in Great Bay, New Hampshire
Brian Gennaco, owner of the Virgin Oyster Company, harvests oysters from an oyster bag on his oyster farm in Little Bay in Durham, New Hampshire.

I recently was asked to shoot a really cool project close to home on the New Hampshire Seacoast for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) that took a look at their successful aquaculture program called Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR.) My colleague Ryan Smith and I spent four days on New Hampshire’s Little Bay and Great Bay in late October shooting stills and video of local oyster farmers and TNC scientists as they harvested, sorted, and redeployed oysters to a restoration site in the bay.

Aquaculture in Great Bay,. New Hampshire
Oyster farmer Tim Henry (right) (Bay Point Oyster Company) and his employee Ken Smaldone stand next to his skiff at sunrise on the shoreline of Great Bay at Adams Point in Durham, New Hampshire.
Oyster farming in New Hampshire
Steve Weglarz of Cedar Point Oyster Farm drives his pontoon boat on his oyster farm in Little Bay in Durham, New Hampshire.
Oyster farming in New Hampshire
Bay Point Oyster Company harvesting oysters on a boat in Little Bay in Durham, New Hampshire.

2 years ago, the New Hampshire chapter of TNC experimented with buying “uglies”, oysters too big for the restaurant market, from local oyster farmers and using them to seed a restoration site near Nanny Island in Great Bay (one of the largest inland estuaries in New England.) Results from the project were very positive.

Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration
The Nature Conservancy’s Alix Laferriere (left) and Brianna Group inspect and count oysters with Steve Weglarz (Cedar Point Oyster Company) as part of the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) program on the shores of Great Bay in Durham, New Hampshire.

Cut to 2020 and oysters farmers are struggling because their biggest market – restaurants – are experiencing greatly reduced sales and/or closing because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The success of the New Hampshire chapter’s experiment led to the creation of SOAR which aims to extend $2 million to approximately 100 oyster farming companies over the next two years in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and Washington state.

Steve Weglarz of Cedar Point Oyster Farm hoses off a cage full of oysters on his oyster farm in Little Bay in Durham, New Hampshire.
TNC Scientists
The Nature Conservancy’s Alix Laferriere (left) and Brianna Group on the dock at the Jackson Estuarine Lab as part of the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) program on the shores of Great Bay in Durham, New Hampshire.
Osyter reef restoration in Great Bay, New Hampshire
The Nature Conservancy’s Brianna Group and Steve Weglarz of Cedar Point Oyster Company add oysters to a restoration reef near Nanny Island as part of the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) program. Great Bay in Durham, New Hampshire.

The program is a boon to oyster farmers who are losing significant income during Covid-19, and it will greatly aid oyster reef restoration, helping to keep waters clean in multiple estuaries (each oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day.) This is a great conservation program with really no downside. It’s getting some good press too. The Today show sent Harry Smith to New Hampshire to produce a feature about the program in October – you can see it here: https://www.today.com/food/tnc-supporting-oyster-farmers-affected-covid-19-today-t195668. And WHDH channel 7 in Boston aired a feature last week: https://whdh.com/news/nh-group-buys-back-unsold-oysters-to-filter-coastal-water/.

Brian Gennaco, owner of the Virgin Oyster Company, and a staff member sort oysters on his oyster farm in Little Bay in Durham, New Hampshire.
Steve Weglarz of Cedar Point Oyster Farm on his pontoon boat on his oyster farm in Little Bay in Durham, New Hampshire.

Here’s the final video produced that Ryan and I filmed and TNC edited:

This was a great shoot to be a part of – super interesting subject matter, cool people to work with, boats and docks and rubber boots – all in a great landscape. I’m really looking forward to the next one of these!

Fall on the salt marsh on the shores of Great Bay
Dawn on the salt marsh at The Nature Conservancy’s Lubberland Creek Preserve in Newmarket, New Hampshire. Great Bay.

I hope you are having a safe and mentally healthy alternate reality holiday season!

Cheers,
-Jerry

P.S. If you’re into the fisherman aesthetic, check out a gallery of images from a working waterfront project I shot for the state of Maine in 2016.

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